Akin’s congressional legacy small, but his support among Christian groups is big

Rep. Todd Akin — now famous as the candidate who couldn’t take a hint — has spent his 11-year House career as a legislative hero to Christian groups, but a minor force on Capitol Hill.

Akin has tried mightily to increase the role of religion in government. He proposed creating a National Year of the Bible in 2008 and an official day of fasting and prayer in 2003 to gird the nation for war in Iraq. Four times, the Missouri Republican wrote bills to keep judges from striking “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.

None of them became law. Of the 52 measures Akin has introduced during his career, just three have been signed by the president. They all renamed post offices in Missouri for service members who died in Iraq.

But if Akin has carved out only a small legacy on the Hill, he has made loyal allies among conservative legislators and Christian groups. Now — after he has been rejected by most of the GOP establishment — these are the friends he has left.

“I definitely believe that he should still be a member of Congress,” said Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who has worked with Akin in fights against abortion. “If everyone truly understood this man, and knew this man like I do . . . they would be honored to have him as a congressman.”

Here in Akin’s St. Louis area district, where the congressman is known for dressing up in Revolutionary War costume, he has other defenders.

Don Hinkle, editor of the newspaper serving the Missouri Baptist Convention, said he was “grieved over” Akin’s controversial remarks, stressing that he was speaking only for himself. “But I’ve known Todd. I know his character and the man that he is. And I know that his words didn’t match his heart.”

The national GOP’s leadership has turned on Akin, now a candidate for Senate, after a local TV interview broadcast Sunday. Akin was asked to defend his opposition to abortion, even in cases in which the pregnancy began with a rape.

“From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin said. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Scientists say he was wrong. Akin has since apologized for what he called “ill-conceived” remarks. But a chorus of Republicans is still calling for him to drop out.

On Wednesday, the latest was vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

Akin’s answer was still no.

“The people of Missouri chose me to be their candidate, and I don’t believe it’s right for party bosses to decide to override those voters,” Akin said on NBC’s “Today” show.

It was a response in character for a stubborn man few people know.

Akin, 65, is an engineer and National Guard veteran whose father was chief executive of the now-defunct Laclede Steel Co. Along with his wife, Lulli, he home-schooled six children in the St. Louis exurb of Town and Country.

In 1984, after a career in business, Akin got a divinity degree at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, part of the conservative Presbyterian Church in America. There, Akin studied Greek and Hebrew and a reading of the Scriptures that is socially conservative and staunchly antiabortion.

But he did not enter the ministry.

“He decided to pursue politics as a ministry” instead, said Jerry Newcombe, a spokesman for Truth in Action Ministries, a group whose founder, pastor D. James Kennedy, was a strong influence on Akin. “He felt like different people had different callings, and he felt a calling in his life: to go into politics.”

Akin arrived in the Missouri legislature in 1988. There, friends said, he could be found strumming gospel songs on his guitar in the state Capitol’s rotunda while other politicians were heading out for beers.

Akin was also known for dressing up in a three-cornered hat and other colonial regalia for Fourth of July picnics he’d host for supporters on the lawn of the family homestead, according to Harold Hendrick, a Baptist pastor and part-time radio host who has known Akin for more than 20 years. At one gathering, Akin’s pastor dressed as a colonial Lutheran minister.

The pastor would read from Ecclesiastes, take off his colonial robes to reveal a revolutionary military uniform and then march off with George Washington to war. The lesson was one that Akin has returned to throughout his career: The Founding Fathers were deeply religious and expected that America would be, too.

“He is just a remarkable scholar of our country’s heritage,” Hendrick said. He recently sent Akin $250 as an expression of continued support.

Akin ran for Congress in 2000, telling a reporter that “today we’ve gotten confused and we think there’s no room for faith in the area of civil government.” He has not had a tough election since.

His district stretches out through the St. Louis suburbs, including wealthy areas and more rural ones. It has voted for Republicans since 1993.

On Capitol Hill, Akin has not advanced himself or his ideas very far.

Since his first election, one of his fellow freshmen — Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) — has risen to become House majority leader. Akin has risen to be the fifth-ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

His legislation, too, has tended to languish in obscurity.

One of Akin’s legislative successes came when the House passed his resolution calling on President George W. Bush to proclaim a national day of “humility, prayer, and fasting.” It indulged his passion for history, citing the Virginia House of Burgesses, the Continental Congress, Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln.

But Bush didn’t go along.

Franks, the Arizona congressman, said Akin is well liked by other Republicans. But he is known for following his own ideas and not for the kind of favor-trading required to move up.

“I truly believe that his goal is not to gain notoriety for himself. It’s not about amassing power,” Franks said. “It’s essentially about the principles that he believes in.”

Without changing the law, however, Akin made himself a beloved figure among some Christian groups with strong stances against abortion and same-sex marriage. He has called abortion “the blackest page yet in American history.”

In 2011, he was blunt about his adversaries’ politics. “At the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God,” he told the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins in an interview. “And a belief that government should replace God.”

After 11 years, Akin has a lifetime score of 97.24 (out of 100) from the American Conservative Union. And that’s low for him: The National Right to Life Committee and Americans for Prosperity both recently gave him 100 out of 100.

On Wednesday, his longtime allies were hoping that Akin, never very interested in intra-party politics, could ignore his party’s wrath this time and survive.

“Unfortunately, Todd has given a gift to the other side that they just love,” said Newcombe at Truth in Action Ministries. “Personally, I’m just waiting for the news cycle to end.”

David A. Fahrenthold covers Congress for the Washington Post. He has been at the Post since 2000, and previously covered (in order) the D.C. police, New England, and the environment.
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